Lynda Hallinan builds a bug hotel to offer bed and breakfast accommodation for creepy crawlies.
creates a bug mansion
If you reckon gardening is a gentle, earth-motherly sort of affair, you’d be wrong. “Let no one think that real gardening is a bucolic and meditative occupation,” wrote the early 20thcentury science fiction author Karel Capek. Capek, whose main claim to fame was inventing the word robot, described gardening as “an insatiable passion, like everything else to which a man gives his heart”.
Insatiable passion, or incurable madness? It does seem to drive some of us a bit doolally. How else can you explain all those eccentric Victorians shovelling steaming mounds of fresh horse manure into sunken conservatories in a bid to grow pineapples, or the 40 years that the French painter Jacques
Majorelle spent creating his Marrakesh garden – now owned by fashion designer Yves St Laurent – where he painted every brick and tile in his signature shade of cobalt blue?
If we’re honest, gardening is actually a competitive sport, appealing as much to vanity and our sense of one-upmanship as it does to our desire to feel at one with nature.
When Lancelot “Capability” Brown was Britain’s go-to guy for landscape design in the 18th century, his trick was to create garden-less gardens: naturalistic looking landscapes of rolling hills, woodlands, rivers and lakes where previously there were none.
Over in France in the 17th century, King Louis XIV pulled out all the stops to create the most expensive garden in the world. It’s estimated that, were it to be built today, the garden at Versailles would cost well over $1 billion. To create it, all of the Sun King’s horses and all of his men were put to work reclaiming swampy marshes, chipping away at marble fountains, uprooting 200,000 mature trees from the surrounding countryside and digging out a 1.5km-long grand canal complete with 620 water jets and a fleet of Venetian gondolas.
But like so many backyard makeovers, folly trumped function at Versailles. The waterworks were so extravagant the pumps kept going kaput; when the King set off for a stroll, a team of minions had to run ahead turning the nozzles on and off in order to maintain enough water pressure for the jets that were within his line of sight.
I can sympathise, for many of my own gardening projects have also come unstuck after the execution phase.
When I got married six years ago, my husband and I exchanged vows on our lawn at home, standing in front of a rather unusual altar: an antique Romanian dovecote. It was a thing of beauty, with hand-cut cedar roofing tiles, fancy fascia boards and 21 hidey-holes for cooing birds.
No dove has ever stepped foot in it, although a couple of magpies tried to nest in it last summer and a contortionist possum once overnighted there. Also, it wasn’t particularly weatherproof, especially after slaters ate its rotten roof off, and it ended up as a bit of an eyesore.
My husband wanted it gone. “Burn it,” he said. But I had a
The bug hotel's “rooms” are furnished with natural materials collected from the garden, such as logs, bark, bamboo canes and pine cones.
better idea. I decided to upcycle it, giving it a new life and purpose as the penthouse suite of a bug hotel of Trump Tower proportions.
Bug hotels aim to provide homely habitats for biodiverse communities of beneficial insects, such as beetles, butterflies and bumble-bees, giving them a safe winter refuge. They also look funky in sustainable landscapes and, having made their debut at the Hampton Court Palace Flower Show in London in 2009, these fashionable follies are getting progressively posher.
Tiny homes are all the rage, but when I set out to build my bug hotel, I had grand plans for a palatial skyscraper – not some budget backpacker hostel – set in gracious grounds (a bed of beautiful cascading blush-pink “Waterfall” begonias).
Sadly, unlike Louis XIV, I didn’t have 36,000 men to do all the grunt work but I did have four keen German volunteers – Debora, Andi, Anna and Sandra – who were here on holiday at the time. Together we foraged around my garden for dried flax stalks, seed heads, pine cones, twigs, rocks, bricks and other bits and bobs.
It took a full day to construct the towers, Jenga-style, and the ordeal was not without its casualties: we burnt out my Dad’s 50-year-old electric drill boring holes into the ends of storm-felled branches and logs
(the holes look cute but also act as maternity wards for insect larvae to hatch out in).
What sort of tenants am I hoping to attract? All going to plan, I’ll end up as a slum landlord for hibernating ladybirds, slaters, earwigs, weevils, leaf miners, borer beetles, centipedes and native solitary bees, so named because they prefer their own company to the conviviality of life in a hive.
My only hope is that they don’t trash the place in a hurry. When popstar Justin Bieber and his entourage were on tour in Sydney this year, they left his $20 million rented mansion in such a state the owners had to call in a team of fumigators, but that would rather defeat the purpose of my fanciful new folly.